Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Of Bishops and Books

Warren (Buck) Buckingham
I am not a cradle Episcopalian and was told at the time of my reception into the Church in 1987 that much of our stabilizing “new blood” as a denomination consisted of refugees from other traditions. I could list hundreds of people and reasons why I became and remain a committed part of this church. But if forced to choose just two, they would be the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, that was still both new and controversial – and certainly not yet fully embraced – when I was received, and our then-Presiding Bishop Ed Browning and his promise that there would be “No outcasts!” so long as he led us.

All these years later, I continue to celebrate both of these forces that drew me into the church. I do this during my personal devotions every day when I drink deeply from, “A Year of Days with the Book of Common Prayer.” It is sadly out of print, but you might find a used copy on e-Bay or Amazon. Each day, Bishop Browning selected some snippet from the treasure trove of the Prayer Book – an order for ordination, The Catechism, a Eucharistic prayer, the Psalter, a setting of Prayers of the People – and then composed a reflection on those seeming-random lines from the Prayer Book. 

His thoughtful and prophetic reflections can call me up short, knock me to my knees in prayer, move me to tears, or inspire me to action. What they most consistently do is reaffirm my commitment to the all-embracing love of Christ that Ed Browning carried in his person, to doing whatever small things God has in mind for me to do to bring about a more just world, and to sharing with others the Good News of both the Gospel and this Episcopal Church that has embraced me so unreservedly. 
I want to make more Episcopalians. As we shift from the glory of Eastertide into ordinary time, and as we try to maintain connections to new faces in the pews who may have joined us for the season but are not sure they plan to stay, we could do worse than to talk with non-Episcopalians about the history and polity, the histrionics and the politics, that have shaped our denomination for nearly 500 years. Our bishops and our Prayer Book are key to our identity.

While we pray for both our Presiding and our Diocesan Bishops every Sunday, most newcomers will probably never lay eyes on the Presiding Bishop and will only encounter Bishop Budde occasionally. We need to tell them what Bishops mean in our tradition, including the democratizing influence of the American experiment that results in our Bishops being chosen by election of those they will lead. And since most parishes now place the Order for Worship in the weekly pew leaflet, many newcomers may not even know that we have a Book of Common Prayer, never mind the fact that it is so central to what makes us who we are as a uniquely defined part of the Christian family. 

We confuse newcomers with our quirky vocabulary of Collects and undercrofts, of sextons and Propers, but there probably is not great risk to letting these “precious” confusions linger. There is risk to authentic Episcopal Evangelism, I believe, if we neglect to introduce those newly among us to the centrality of the democratically-elected episcopate confirmed in the apostolic succession, and of our Book of Common Prayer while we seek to grow our church into this new millennium.

Warren (Buck) Buckingham is Senior Warden of the Church of the Ascension, Sligo Parish and was most recently director of the Office of Global Health and HIV for the United States Peace Corps. Share your thoughts, comments, or questions with the diocesan community on Facebook.